Many people outside of the industry are surprised to find out that web designers are just like them. We need to eat, have a roof over our heads and a shiny new phone in our pockets every six months or so. All kidding aside, we are indeed running a business and need to make a living.
Only, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. For those of us who don’t come from a business background, there is a tendency to become a bit too casual. And working at home only encourages this behavior.
This can be beneficial in that it allows us to build the type of atmosphere where creativity can blossom. But on the downside, a casual approach could mean that we’re leaving a significant amount of money on the table. Even worse is that it may not even occur to us that we’re doing so.
In that spirit, let’s look at some common situations where we are essentially giving our time away. To be clear, this is not to advocate for charging good clients for every little thing. Rather, it’s more about raising awareness and ensuring that we’re not being taken advantage of. Now, let’s get to it!
Once you hand off a website to your client, it’s only a matter of time before they run into an issue or have a question. That’s to be expected. And, if you haven’t already sold them on a support package, it can also turn into a revenue-draining black hole.
While it hardly seems fair to charge for something as simple as a five- or ten-minute email exchange, these incidents do start to add up. What’s worse is that it only takes one technically-challenged or scope-expanding client to unintentionally eat up your time. This is time that you could otherwise use to, you know, make money.
There’s nothing wrong with giving away the occasional freebie. It’s a small gesture that can keep your client relationships strong. But you do need to set limits, either by informing clients from the very beginning or once your arbitrary threshold has been crossed. This will allow you to both be a web superhero and avoid taking a loss on support.
Acting as a Researcher/Liaison
So much of our job these days is to work with third-party software and services. Plugins, web hosts, APIs and code libraries make up significant portions of a project.
But the part that we don’t often think about is the amount of time spent researching these various items. That can include anything from searching the web, comparing options to chatting with sales or support representatives to get our questions answered. And when something goes wrong, we are often the ones who deal with it on behalf of a client.
While a project is in the development phase, you might consider this as just a part of your fees – fair enough. But the role of liaison doesn’t end once the site launches.
Indeed, there can be a great deal of time (and stress) associated with relaying communications between an outside service and your client. The back-and-forth shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to billing.
It often seems that, because web designers are technically-skilled, we get asked for help and advice regarding all sorts of subjects. Usually, they’re not at all related to web design.
People get in touch to ask (in no particular order): How to use their iPhone, what their email password is, how to get their email on their iPhone, how to open a specific type of file, will the new iPhone be worth it and…you get the idea.
Again, there is a fine line. You don’t want to come off as some sort of a rude miser, but you don’t want to go on endlessly answering questions unrelated to your actual job. It may in fact be the last thing you want to do, especially when you’re busy with more pressing matters.
On the other hand, it might not be wise to charge for these types of questions (it may inadvertently bring you more of them). Perhaps the best tact is to simply leave these questions hanging until you have some extra time to deal with them.
There are some web professionals who charge for writing proposals. This can be a smart way to attract potential clients who are both serious and willing to pay for quality. Still, this practice seems to be the exception more than the rule.
Proposals can be significant work and do take up precious time, no doubt. But the hope is that it pays off in the form of a shiny new project to work on.
But then there are those prospective or even existing clients who ask for multiple quotes. They are either “serial” entrepreneurs with lots of big ideas or someone who looks at the same project in a lot of different ways over time. In either case, there is a large time investment on your part that could all be for nothing.
This leads to a pretty serious business decision. If you find that you’re losing lots of time due to writing proposals, maybe a new strategy needs to be put in place. Or, it might be that a couple of the worst offenders need to be put in their place.
Be Mindful of Your Time
As the old saying goes, time is money. And while money certainly isn’t the only thing that counts, the situations above could be getting in your way when it comes to earning some.
That’s why it’s important to track how much time you spend performing these tasks for free. Keep a tally of what you do, who you’re doing it for and the amount of time spent. You might be surprised at how much you’re giving away.
In response, it might be worth considering putting policies in place that protect you from overreaching clients – not to mention your own good will. Doing so can help to ensure that you’re being fairly compensated for your efforts.